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Betsey Heuisler, artist and teacher, dies

Portrait of Betsey Heuisler of Roland Park in her Druid Park Drive studio.
Portrait of Betsey Heuisler of Roland Park in her Druid Park Drive studio. (Francis Gardler / Patuxent Publishing)

Betsey Heuisler, an artist and teacher recalled for her evocative paintings of human hands, died of cancer June 15 at Roland Park Place. She was 75.

Born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, she was the daughter of Charles Henry Evans, who served a term in the New Jersey legislature, and his wife, Ruth Sloan, a civic leader and library advocate. She was a 1963 graduate of Haddonfield Memorial High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

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While she was a student at Penn, a classmate introduced her to her future husband, J. Stanley Heuisler, while they were at a student watering hole, the Smokey Joe cafe.

“Our attraction was really sort of instantaneous,” said her husband, the former director of the Columbus Center and Baltimore Magazine editor. “When she decided something, she was always very confident. There was no border she worried about.”

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Once settled in Baltimore, she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art. One of her student art pieces, a serigraph, “Soaring Red,” was exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1971.

They couple spent several years traveling throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. They lived, worked, taught and traveled in 36 countries via a Volkswagen they bought duty-free in Amsterdam.

They spent a period in Afghanistan.

“In Afghanistan, Betsey was able to navigate among the well-to do-families and among regular families in the issues of what women’s roles were,” said her husband. “She made friends for life there.”

Prints she made were shown in Rabat, Morocco, in 1972. Her paintings of Afghan women were exhibited in Kabul two years later. At times she worked through a United States Information Service grant and another from the Asia Foundation.

“Her eyes had the same sparkle as her personality,” said Fred Lazarus, former Maryland Institute College of Art president. “I never saw Betsey not upbeat. She and her husband seemed to know everybody and she was a spirited person in the arts scene.”

She became a private instructor of life drawing, and she created and taught a course at the University of Maryland Medical School.

“She put together a course in the medical humanities,” said her husband. “She used art to teach third-year psychiatry students. They idea was for them to become richer in ways to listen to and treat their patients.”

She also taught at MICA and founded a summer painting program for the school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

“It was not a conventional program,” said her husband. “There were MICA students, but their siblings and even parents came along.”

She went on to be to become chair of the art department at the Gilman School.

“Betsey took the art department to new highs,” said John Schmick, former Gilman headmaster. “She got the boys so excited and so serious about their talents. She really revolutionized the school. She was a wonderfully fun person and a real personality.”

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Ms. Heuisler painted at her studio in Woodberry. More than 400 of her paintings, drawings and prints are in private, corporate, museum and government collections nationally and abroad.

She lived in Roland Park and once painted landscapes, but changed course as she closely observed hand formations.

“I always saw the body,” she said in a 2004 Sun article. “What if I paint the body and draw the landscape out of it?”

The Sun article also said, “When the crisis of [the Afghan] war weighed too heavily on her mind, local artist Betsey Heuisler picked up her brush and tried to lift her spirits. She hoped that painting — something she’d done in the past for enlightenment, for comfort, for employment — would bring her solace and peace of mind during the times that troubled her.”

The article said that “finding a retreat from the news of the day would prove to be more difficult than she had imagined” and “she struggled with her emotions and the artwork that resulted.”

““She drew inspiration from small areas of human hands — wrinkles in the skin, the space encircled by the thumb, overlapping fingers. ...”

Her daughter, Kate Heuisler, said, “In some ways the ‘Healing Hands’ show was about my mother’s relationship with her father. He lived a long life and at the end suffered from Alzheimer’s. The show was a tribute to him.”

Her daughter also said, “No one ever forgot Betsey Heuisler. She believed that everyone had creative potential in some part of their lives, and helped encourage and support people to make space for it.”

“Healing Hands” was mounted at the Paper-Rock Scissors Gallery in Hampden.

A memorial service has been planned for a year away, June 15, 2021. A memorial scholarship has been created in her name at MICA.

In addition of her husband of 52 years and daughter, survivors include a son, Alec Heuisler of Baltimore, and four grandchildren.

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